“Antioxidants” and “free radicals” are common buzz words in the health arena, but how many of us actually know what those words mean? Free radicals are unstable molecules that have lost an electron and try to react with other neighboring molecules to become whole again. These reactive atoms are located throughout the human body and will damage healthy cells if they are not neutralized by antioxidants. Antioxidants are substances such as vitamin C and vitamin E that can remove free radicals in a living organism.
Your eyes are vulnerable to free radical damage because they are exposed to light, oxygen and pollutants in the air. Over time, this can cause chronic conditions like glaucoma. While antioxidants can help counteract free radicals that can damage cells and tissues, they cannot be taken to reverse glaucoma. Antioxidants can, however, protect cells against the oxidative stress of free radicals, and they can be obtained in food or supplements.
Antioxidants in food
Before you consider taking an antioxidant supplement, take some time to analyze your diet. Adequate nutrition is vital for eye health. There are countless foods that contain antioxidants to help prevent free radicals damage and glaucoma development. You may not need to take a supplement if you change your diet to include more vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, lutein, zeaxanthin, nitric oxide, and glutathione (Source: Eyesight on Wellness). Here are some examples of some of the most common antioxidants:
- Vitamin A – a fat soluble vitamin found in dark leafy greens, winter squashes and lettuce
- Lutein and Zeaxanthin – important nutrients found in green leafy vegetables, as well as other foods, such as eggs
- Vitamin C – best sources of this vitamin include citrus fruits, bell pepper and broccoli
- Vitamin E – a powerful antioxidant found in nuts, fortified cereals and sweet potatoes
- Essential Fatty Acids – fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines
- Zinc – a mineral that brings vitamin A from the liver to the retina in order to produce melanin, a protective pigment in the eyes
Antioxidants in supplements
First, it’s important to realize that you can’t treat glaucoma with antioxidants. Also, taking supplements will only help if you’re deficient in antioxidants, so consider talking with your healthcare provider about your overall health. Altering your diet may be sufficient to increase antioxidant levels, but your primary care physician may advise that you pair an antioxidant supplement with antioxidant-rich foods. By increasing your antioxidant intake, you’ll support healthy eyes and may lower your risk for glaucoma (Source: Glaucoma Research Foundation).